Considering the Social Context of Schools: A Framework for Investigating New Teacher Induction
Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 20, No. 3, August 2012, 325–342
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The goal of this paper is to provide a useful framework rooted in social capital theory to be utilized to guide future research and practice concerning novice teacher induction that includes broader attention to the social context within which teachers are situated. Specifically, the author expounds upon the elements of a school’s social context which impact teacher socialization, and the work presented draws on social capital theory to illustrate elements of the framework for future research and practice.
A Social Capital Framework
Grounded in social capital theory, the conceptual framework which the author has developed is based upon his involvement in a multiyear mixed-methods study of novice teacher socialization and an extensive review of previous studies of novice teacher socialization.
Specifically, the following four elements are the cornerstones of the framework:
(1) Social Context
It is important to consider how the social context impacts the effectiveness of new teacher induction in promoting improved teacher practice and retention, including the levels of relational trust and collective responsibility amongst teachers, and between teachers and administrators. These elements of a school’s social organization more broadly reflect the flow of resources within a school as well as teachers’ and administrators’ willingness to collaborate with others, thus impacting the level of support to which novice teachers have access.
(2) Characteristics of Novices, Mentors, and Colleagues
Within this general social context, it is important to focus on the characteristics of the novice teacher, mentor, and other colleagues because these characteristics can shape the nature and outcomes of their interactions.
The third element of focus for this framework is degree of alignment, or fit, amongst novice teachers and their mentors and colleagues. Mentors and colleagues who are well aligned with novice teachers in these elements would be expected to have greater subject matter expertise to which novice teachers would have access.
(4) Frequency and Content of Interactions
Together, the social context, the characteristics of the teachers, and the alignment amongst teachers ultimately influences the frequency and content of interactions between novices and their mentors and other colleagues. It is through these interactions that novices access resources and support and social capital is manifested.
When the social context promotes collaboration amongst teachers, and novice teachers have high levels of fit with their mentors and other colleagues, they are more likely to engage in frequent interactions and these interactions are more likely to focus on instruction, curriculum, and student assessments.
These elements of teacher interactions have been shown to have significant impacts on teacher effectiveness.
Implications for Future Research
It is important for researchers to better understand what factors lead veteran teachers to reach out to novice teachers and what factors lead novice teachers to seek assistance from and positively respond to particular colleagues. It is equally important for researchers to investigate how these relationships then influence novice teachers’ attitudes and behavior, particularly how it impacts teacher practice and quality, as well as retention decisions.
Measuring social context
As highlighted in the framework, researchers interested in studying the effects of new teacher induction should first gage the social context within which teachers in the school are located. Particularly, they should measure the levels of relational trust and collective responsibility amongst the teachers.
Researchers are also advised to measure the alignment amongst novice teachers and their mentors and other colleagues, both in practical terms as well as more abstract alignment.
Social network analysis
There are also specific social network tools that can aid researchers in understanding novices’ interactions with their formal mentors and other colleagues, and that can gage their access to resources and support, while taking account of the social context of the school. Particularly, it is important to measure how the content and frequency of novice teachers’ interactions with their mentors and colleagues manifests in social capital, and thus influences important outcomes (e.g. teacher practice, effectiveness, or career decisions).
Implications for Practitioners
This framework also has important implications for practitioners, particularly district and school administrators charged with socializing teachers into their local contexts. It is foremost important to define the goals of novice teacher induction within their school or district. The administrator can then direct assistance to maximize the level of needed support novice teachers receive through their interactions with their formal mentors and other colleagues.
Furthermore, administrators can promote school-wide norms of teacher collaboration through enhancing relational trust and collective responsibility throughout the school, thus increasing the probability that novice teachers will have consistent access to resources and support. They may also identify teacher leaders who emerge within the social context of the school to act as facilitators of support for novices in less-formalized ways, and work to reduce pressures on novice teachers by fully acknowledging their novice status and directing additional resources to them. This is particularly important in an era of high-stakes testing and changes to teacher evaluation systems.
Additionally, school leaders can clearly communicate the goals and values of the school which they want to be communicated through novice teacher socialization, particularly regarding the accepted norms of instructional practice. This will likely lead to a more efficient distribution of support and resources aimed at improving teacher effectiveness.
By placing new teacher induction in a social capital framework, researchers and practitioners can more extensively examine elements of schools’ formal and informal social structures to therefore identify novices’ access to resources and supports which ultimately impact their teaching practice and career decisions.